I mentioned it last week, and now Taking Liberties has a piece – The war on smoking is a war on individual freedom – on the liberation of Manbij, quoting from an article by Juliet Samuel in the Telegraph:
The women are smoking cigarettes … Newly liberated from the rule of Isil, they’re expressing the most basic freedom a human can possess: control over their own bodies. These are the freedoms the West holds dear.
If only that were true. The West may not kill or torture people for smoking (not yet, anyway!) but the suggestion it’s a freedom “the West holds dear” is no longer true, sadly.
I’m not suggesting governments should actively encourage habits that are potentially harmful but if it’s legal the state’s role in a free society is to educate then allow people to make our own informed choices without being punished for making choices the state doesn’t approve of.
Instead, led by America, Australia, Canada, the UK and Ireland (spot the connection?), governments and local authorities in the West have spent the past two decades banning or severely restricting smoking in a variety of public places.
Smoking in enclosed public places is now prohibited in several Western countries and there is a growing move towards outdoor smoking bans.
Smokers have been taxed to the hilt, far in excess of what it allegedly costs the state to treat smoking-related diseases.
In some countries the product has been hidden behind shutters and sliding doors while packs and pouches are emblazoned with gory health warnings designed to shock and repulse.
Simultaneously the public has been encouraged to regard smoking as a dirty or disgusting habit (“If you smoke, you stink” according to one publicly-funded campaign).
Does that sound like a freedom “the West holds dear”?
Well, exactly. This is one freedom that the West doesn’t hold dear. And it really means that the West no longer really holds any freedom dear. For once one freedom has gone, the rest will soon follow.
And if “inclusiveness” is another value that “the West holds dear”, the treatment of smokers goes to show how empty that claim also is.
All empty words.
For me defending smoking (and smokers) is the litmus test of a genuinely liberal mind. It scores points on so many levels I hardly know where to start.
The most important perhaps is that genuine liberals are prepared to defend activities they themselves don’t engage in and may even disapprove of.
Defending smoking means challenging the current orthodoxy that the world would be a better place without it.
It’s the only litmus test I use these days. The first thing I want to know about anyone is whether they’re antismoking or not. And if they are antismoking, I know everything I need to know about them.
So I’ll ask this. Who do you identify with – the women in Manjib, Syria, celebrating the freedom to smoke, or public health campaigners who want to deny you that freedom in the name of … what, exactly?
I don’t doubt that some people are addicted to smoking and want to quit. I’m equally convinced however that as an expression of individual freedom smoking is hard to beat.
I also think the world would be a poorer, less diverse place without smoking but, hey, I’m just a tobacco industry stooge with no mind of my own.
I also think that the world would be (is?) a poorer place without smoking, in much the same way it would be a poorer place without the scent of perfume, the rich aroma of coffee, the smell of newly baked bread, and twenty thousand other aromas that, at the drop of a hat, someone somewhere will declare to be a “stink”.